It in contrast to other social identities which

It can be argued that the early 20th
century was a period of class dominance within British society especially for
the: aristocrat, middle and working class. The term ‘class’ within England
during ‘this period was a country of social classes’  1(Roberts 1971) and for many
people it was the way in which they identified themselves within society.  For many their lives were ultimately shaped by
their ‘class’. Many historians have considered the importance of class within
this period in contrast to other social identities which can also be held
alongside class like: gender and national identities. When analysing other factors
of class, gender is often explored and the idea of ‘separate spheres’. This is
based on the view that both men and women take on separate roles within
society, more importantly one’s ‘class’  ultimately resulted in the
authority and power one held during this period. This essay will focus on
‘class’ in Britain, during the early 20th century and the importance
it held over other social identities like gender and national identities.

It is important to consider that the significance
of class is rather greater than gender and national identities and for many
Marxist’s historians this period was defined as ‘class-consciousness’. For many
individuals their social class held greater importance in their daily life
proving that not only was this implemented in their daily life it further led
many to identify themselves in terms of their ‘class’. The period proved to
enhance the argument that class allegiance held a greater significance than
gender and national identity within the British society. Bourke’s (1994) stated
that the ‘visual indicators of class were significant’ 2and ‘class’ was said to
have  been split into three categories :
Upper, Middle or Working class each which experienced a different way of life.
A clear diffraction was made amongst the classes as Roberts (1971) states that ‘the
real social divide existed between those who, in earning daily bread, dirtied
hands and face and those who did not’ 3this reinforces the
argument formed by Bourke’s and the real meaning of ‘class’ during this period
was one which set apart the rich from the poor and reinstated the ‘social
divide’ 4amongst many. The
importance of class in early 20th century separated an individual from
the rest of society. The working-class were often referred to as people who
‘dirtied their hands’ 5and they were said to have
a smaller life span. This was presented by Carnevali & Strange (2007) as
‘the life expectancy of professional men was 7.4 years greater than men engaged
in unskilled manual jobs’ 6proving that non-manual
jobs which were taken on by the middle class were seen to be better for ones
health than job’s which were taken on by the middle class. This suggested that
class allegiance ultimately was more important than gender and national
identity as many individuals associated themselves in terms of their ‘class’
and their lifestyle was also based on ‘the three types of districts’ during the
inter-war Britian7.     

The role of gender in early 20th
century held some significance within British society as this was a period
whereby gender contributed to the factors like class allegiance which were said
to have been more important. Although, Johnson (1994) argued that ‘British
society in 1900 was sharply divided along class and gender lines’ 8it was evidently explored
that gender contributed to the class and women of different social class were
treated  differently to those who were
from upper-class backgrounds. The idea of ‘separate spheres’ became more
evidently clear with the rise of the feminism (suffragettes) as women started
to make political decisions. Furthermore, they began to expand from the private
sphere of their homes and their desire was to make a change. Pugh (2012),
highlighted the changes that women had brought about as it was said that ‘late
Victorian feminists won a series of improvements for women, and by their
successful participation in public rules’ 9proving that women had
taken advantage of their class in order to make a change to women’s right, in
contrast to working class women who were associated as the ‘radical suffragists’.
It was said that ‘The experience of working class women involved in the
suffrage movement was not the same as middle and upper class women engaged in
the same political activities’ 10as their working-class
status contributed to the limited political power they had proving that even
though gender to some extent was important class held greater significance as
gender was an aspect of their class. Hicks (2017) makes the point that ‘the
aristocracy and well respected families protected many women, and meant that
the consequences of political activism were not as harsh or as threatening as
they could be’ 11this
further adds to the importance of class and how it contributes to a woman’s
class. It was further shown that a woman of higher hierarchy were given the
right to become politically more ,in contrast to the working-class women
(suffragists) who were unsuccessful in making a real change in Britian.   

During the early 20th century it was
important to consider that national identity played a small role amongst
Britian’s role as a ‘multi-national state’ with the four nations of England,
Scotland and (Northern) Ireland.  Collins
(1994) states that the ‘Three aspects of Unionism
in the early twentieth century may be isolated and dissected for evidence of
both continuity and instability.12
this  suggests that the Irish began to ad


‘These problems of multi-ethnic societies within
specially nineteenth-century state configurations have been just as apparent in

In early 20th century Britain, Class
allegiance held more importance than gender and national identities. This
suggested that Britain was a ‘class’ driven country and for many individuals
they would identify themselves with their ‘class’ , even though gender did
contribute to class is rather played a backseat and class was dominating
Britain during the early 20th century. When coming to a conclusion
it is clear that other factors did contribute to class, however it was proven
that class allegiance ultimately remained more important than both gender and
national identity.


1 Roberts,
R. (1971). The Classic Slum: Salford Life
in the First Quarter of the Century. England: Harmondsworth.

2 Bourke, J. (1993). Working Class Cultures in Britain 1890-1960. London:

Roberts, R. (1971). The Classic Slum:
Salford Life in the First Quarter of the Century. England: Harmondsworth.


Roberts, R. (1971). The Classic Slum:
Salford Life in the First Quarter of the Century. England: Harmondsworth.

Roberts, R. (1971). The Classic Slum:
Salford Life in the First Quarter of the Century. England: Harmondsworth.

6 Carnevali,
F., & Strange, J.-M. (Eds.). (2007). Twentieth-century Britain : economic,
cultural and social change (2nd ed.). Harlow: Pearson Longman.

7 Samuel,
R. (1983). The Middle Class between the Wars: Part Two. New Socialist, Mar/Apr
, 28-32. Retrieved from

8Johnson, P.
(1994). 20th
Century Britian. New York: Logman.

9 Pugh, M.
(2012). State
and Society (4th ed.). London: Bloomsbury Academic.


O. (2017). Race, Class, and the Demographics of the British Suffragette
Movement. Retrieved from

11 Hicks,
O. (2017). Race, Class, and the Demographics of the British Suffragette
Movement. Retrieved from

12 Jackson,
A. (1994). Irish Unionism 1905-21. In P. Collins (Ed), Nationalism and unionism
: conflict in Ireland, 1885-1921 (pp 34-46). Belfast: Institute of Irish
Studies, Queen’s University of Belfast.

13 MacKenzie,
J. (1998). Empire and National Identities the Case of Scotland. Transactions of
the Royal Historical Society, 8, 215-231. doi:10.2307/3679295

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